Is Deterrence Effective? Results of a Meta-Analysis of Punishment

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Abstract

It is supposed that threats of punishment deter potential criminals from committing crimes. The correctness of this theory is, however, questionable. Numerous empirical investigations have come to different results. In this article a meta-analysis is described which tries to find out the reasons for the different findings. First evaluations indicate that the methods of research have an influence on the results and that a possible deterring effect of the penal law can only be covered reasonably with a very differentiating model. Not all criminal acts can be influenced by deterrence. It appears that the most significant deterrent effects can be achieved in cases of minor crime, administrative offences and infringements of informal social norms. In cases of homicide, on the other hand, the meta-analysis does not indicate that the death penalty has a deterrent effect. According to the results, the validity of the deterrence hypothesis must be looked at in a differenciated manner.